Lemon Pepper Spaghetti
on Jan 27, 2022, Updated Jul 08, 2022
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Ready in 15 minutes and less than 10 ingredients, this super simple lemon pepper spaghetti is inspired by classic cacio e pepe, plus plenty of kale. Rather than creating a lemon sauce with butter or cream, these lighter lemon noodles rely on olive oil, garlic and seasonings.
You can never have too many pantry recipes in your cooking repertoire. The most obvious are soups and stews where you pull cans of this and that from your shelves, and maybe an onion off your counter, to create a main dish.
Pasta is another one of my pantry mainstays. I have no less than 5 different shapes from linguini to penne to fusilli to orecchiette on hand at any one time. I like to have options depending on how I’m planning to dress those noodles whether it’s garlic and oil or tomato sauce.
Even though a recipe falls into that pantry category, it doesn’t mean it can’t have any fresh ingredients. And no, I’m not talking about onions. They don’t count! The kale and citrus in this lemon pepper spaghetti have longer lifespans than other fresh produce, giving me permission to stretch the rules on what qualifies as a pantry recipe.
Grocery Essentials for Pantry Pastas
Olive oil and garlic are the most obvious things you need for every recipe, and of course, your favorite pasta shape.
Think of that trio as your base and then head to the antipasti aisle for cured goodies in jars like olives, roasted tomatoes and peppers, artichokes and more. And stop by the cheese department for hard cheeses like Parmesan and Pecorino that last longer than softer options.
On every shopping trip, I pick up a couple lemons and a bunch of hardy greens like kale or chard that I know will last through the week. Most of the time I don’t have a plan for them, but I know they will get used: sometimes the zest in scones and the juice in vinaigrette or pasta. Kale is also great to sauté into pasta or to stir into soup.
Ingredients & Substitutions
This is what you need:
- Spaghetti: My preference for this recipe is a long noodle like spaghetti or linguine. Avoid capellini because it is too thin to stand up to the kale leaves.
- Olive oil: Go with high quality extra-virgin olive oil since this is what is coating the pasta with very few other ingredients.
- Kale: You can use curly green kale or darker lacinato kale. Just pull the leaves off the stems and roughly chop them.
- Garlic: Depending how garlicky you like it, you can mince 2 or 3 garlic cloves.
- Lemon: No part of the lemon goes to waste since you incorporate both the zest and the juice.
- Pecorino is a hard Italian sheep’s milk cheese with a salty and nutty flavor. You can swap it out and substitute with Parmesan.
- Red pepper flakes: For some heat, I stir in red pepper flakes. A little goes a long way!
- Salt & pepper: The pasta is seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper. Don’t be shy about taking a few bites and adding more to your taste preference.
How To Make Lemon Pepper Spaghetti
- Cook the spaghetti until al dente. Check the package to see the recommended cooking time. Usually, it is around 10 minutes. Make sure not to overcook the pasta. It should still have some bite.
- Sauté the kale. Give the spaghetti a few minutes head start, since you want to time it so the noodles are ready at the same time as the kale. Heat the olive oil and sauté the kale until the leaves start to soften.
- Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Continue cooking for a minute until fragrant. Then stir in the lemon juice.
- Use tongs to transfer the spaghetti from the pot into the skillet with the kale. Doing it this way allows some of the pasta water to cling to the noodles instead of losing all of that starchy water if you were to shake it off in a colander. (And it is one less thing to wash!) Toss the pasta in the oil and kale.
- Top with additional cheese before serving. Sprinkle on more salt and pepper if you want.
I love this lemon pepper pasta for busy weeknights because it’s so fast, but it’s great on weekends too with a bottle of wine.
More Easy Pasta Recipes
Lemon Pepper Spaghetti
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups roughly chopped kale leaves curly or lacinato kale
- 2-3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lemon zest and juice
- 1 ounce shaved pecorino cheese plus more for serving
- Cook the spaghetti until al dente according to package instructions.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the kale until the leaves just start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Continue cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute. Then add the lemon juice.
- Use tongs to transfer the spaghetti from the pot to the skillet with the kale. Toss to coat in the olive oil. Stir in the pecorino cheese.
- Divide onto serving plates or into bowls. Top with additional cheese before serving.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.